CHAPTER XVII – Basilio
La vida es sueÃ±o.
Basilio was scarcely inside when he staggered and fell into his mother’s arms. An inexplicable chill seized Sisa as she saw him enter alone. She wanted to speak but could make no sound; she wanted to embrace her son but lacked the strength; to weep was impossible. At sight of the blood which covered the boy’s forehead she cried in a tone that seemed to come from a breaking heart, “My sons!”
“Don’t be afraid, mother,” Basilio reassured her. “Crispin stayed at the convento.”
“At the convento? He stayed at the convento? Is he alive?”
The boy raised his eyes to her. “Ah!” she sighed, passing from the depths of sorrow to the heights of joy. She wept and embraced her son, covering his bloody forehead with kisses.
“Crispin is alive! You left him at the convento! But why are you wounded, my son? Have you had a fall?” she inquired, as she examined him anxiously.
“The senior sacristan took Crispin away and told me that I could not leave until ten o’clock, but it was already late and so I ran away. In the town the soldiers challenged me, I started to run, they fired, and a bullet grazed my forehead. I was afraid they would arrest me and beat me and make me scrub out the barracks, as they did with Pablo, who is still sick from it.”
“My God, my God!” murmured his mother, shuddering. “Thou hast saved him!” Then while she sought for bandages, water, vinegar, and a feather, she went on, “A finger’s breadth more and they would have killed you, they would have killed my boy! The civil-guards do not think of the mothers.”
“You must say that I fell from a tree so that no one will know they chased me,” Basilio cautioned her.
“Why did Crispin stay?” asked Sisa, after dressing her son’s wound.
Basilio hesitated a few moments, then with his arms about her and their tears mingling, he related little by little the story of the gold pieces, without speaking, however, of the tortures they were inflicting upon his young brother.
“My good Crispin! To accuse my good Crispin! It’s because we’re poor and we poor people have to endure everything!” murmured Sisa, staring through her tears at the light of the lamp, which was now dying out from lack of oil. So they remained silent for a while.
“Haven’t you had any supper yet? Here are rice and fish.”
“I don’t want anything, only a little water.”
“Yes,” answered his mother sadly, “I know that you don’t like dried fish. I had prepared something else, but your father came.”
“Father came?” asked Basilio, instinctively examining the face and hands of his mother.
The son’s questioning gaze pained Sisa’s heart, for she understood it only too well, so she added hastily: “He came and asked a lot about you and wanted to see you, and he was very hungry. He said that if you continued to be so good he would come back to stay with us.”
An exclamation of disgust from Basilio’s contracted lips interrupted her. “Son!” she reproached him.
“Forgive me, mother,” he answered seriously. “But aren’t we three better off–you, Crispin, and I? You’re crying–I haven’t said anything.”
Sisa sighed and asked, “Aren’t you going to eat? Then let’s go to sleep, for it’s now very late.” She then closed up the hut and covered the few coals with ashes so that the fire would not die out entirely, just as a man does with his inner feelings; he covers them with the ashes of his life, which he calls indifference, so that they may not be deadened by daily contact with his fellows.
Basilio murmured his prayers and lay down near his mother, who was upon her knees praying. He felt hot and cold, he tried to close his eyes as he thought of his little brother who that night had expected to sleep in his mother’s lap and who now was probably trembling with terror and weeping in some dark corner of the convento. His ears were again pierced with those cries he had heard in the church tower. But wearied nature soon began to confuse his ideas and the veil of sleep descended upon his eyes.
He saw a bedroom where two dim tapers burned. The curate, with a rattan whip in his hand, was listening gloomily to something that the senior sacristan was telling him in a strange tongue with horrible gestures. Crispin quailed and turned his tearful eyes in every direction as if seeking some one or some hiding-place. The curate turned toward him and called to him irritably, the rattan whistled. The child ran to hide himself behind the sacristan, who caught and held him, thus exposing him to the curate’s fury. The unfortunate boy fought, kicked, screamed, threw himself on the floor and rolled about. He picked himself up, ran, slipped, fell, and parried the blows with his hands, which, wounded, he hid quickly, all the time shrieking with pain. Basilio saw him twist himself, strike the floor with his head, he saw and heard the rattan whistle. In desperation his little brother rose. Mad with pain he threw himself upon his tormentor and bit him on the hand. The curate gave a cry and dropped the rattan –the sacristan caught up a heavy cane and struck the boy a blow on the head so that he fell stunned–the curate, seeing him down, trampled him with his feet. But the child no longer defended himself nor did he cry out; he rolled along the floor, a lifeless mass that left a damp track.
Sisa’s voice brought him back to reality. “What’s the matter? Why are you crying?”
“I dreamed–O God!” exclaimed Basilio, sitting up, covered with perspiration. “It was a dream! Tell me, mother, that it was only a dream! Only a dream!”
“What did you dream?”
The boy did not answer, but sat drying his tears and wiping away the perspiration. The hut was in total darkness.
“A dream, a dream!” repeated Basilio in subdued tones.
“Tell me what you dreamed. I can’t sleep,” said his mother when he lay down again.
“Well,” he said in a low voice, “I dreamed that we had gone to glean the rice-stalks–in a field where there were many flowers–the women had baskets full of rice-stalks the men too had baskets full of rice-stalks–and the children too–I don’t remember any more, mother, I don’t remember the rest.”
Sisa had no faith in dreams, so she did not insist.
“Mother, I’ve thought of a plan tonight,” said Basilio after a few moments’ silence.
“What is your plan?” she asked. Sisa was humble in everything, even with her own sons, trusting their judgment more than her own.
“I don’t want to be a sacristan any longer.”
“Listen, mother, to what I’ve been thinking about. Today there arrived from Spain the son of the dead Don Rafael, and he will be a good man like his father. Well now, mother, tomorrow you will get Crispin, collect my wages, and say that I will not be a sacristan any longer. As soon as I get well I’ll go to see Don Crisostomo and ask him to hire me as a herdsman of his cattle and carabaos–I’m now big enough. Crispin can study with old Tasio, who does not whip and who is a good man, even if the curate does not believe so. What have we to fear now from the padre? Can he make us any poorer than we are? You may believe it, mother, the old man is good. I’ve seen him often in the church when no one else was about, kneeling and praying, believe it. So, mother, I’ll stop being a sacristan. I earn but little and that little is taken away from me in fines. Every one complains of the same thing. I’ll be a herdsman and by performing my tasks carefully I’ll make my employer like me. Perhaps he’ll let us milk a cow so that we can drink milk –Crispin likes milk so much. Who can tell! Maybe they’ll give us a little calf if they see that I behave well and we’ll take care of it and fatten it like our hen. I’ll pick fruits in the woods and sell them in the town along with the vegetables from our garden, so we’ll have money. I’ll set snares and traps to catch birds and wild cats, I’ll fish in the river, and when I’m bigger, I’ll hunt. I’ll be able also to cut firewood to sell or to present to the owner of the cows, and so he’ll be satisfied with us. When I’m able to plow, I’ll ask him to let me have a piece of land to plant in sugar-cane or corn and you won’t have to sew until midnight. We’ll have new clothes for every fiesta, we’ll eat meat and big fish, we’ll live free, seeing each other every day and eating together. Old Tasio says that Crispin has a good head and so we’ll send him to Manila to study. I’ll support him by working hard. Isn’t that fine, mother? Perhaps he’ll be a doctor, what do you say?”
“What can I say but yes?” said Sisa as she embraced her son. She noted, however, that in their future the boy took no account of his father, and shed silent tears.
Basilio went on talking of his plans with the confidence of the years that see only what they wish for. To everything Sisa said yes– everything appeared good.
Sleep again began to weigh down upon the tired eyelids of the boy, and this time Ole-Luk-Oie, of whom Andersen tells us, spread over him his beautiful umbrella with its pleasing pictures. Now he saw himself with his little brother as they picked guavas, alpay, and other fruits in the woods; they clambered from branch to branch, light as butterflies; they penetrated into the caves and saw the shining rocks; they bathed in the springs where the sand was gold-dust and the stones like the jewels in the Virgin’s crown. The little fishes sang and laughed, the plants bent their branches toward them laden with golden fruit. Then he saw a bell hanging in a tree with a long rope for ringing it; to the rope was tied a cow with a bird’s nest between her horns and Crispin was inside the bell.
Thus he went on dreaming, while his mother, who was not of his age and who had not run for an hour, slept not.